Celebrate Each Tiny Step

#DareToExcel Challenge – 8:

Take time during the next two days to look back on the past two weeks and acknowledge any positive changes you have noticed during the past two weeks in terms of how you feel, how you are paying attention more to what matters (challenges and all), any new relationships you’re striking up.

Write down and share what you are celebrating. When you celebrate in public, others get to celebrate with you. Your celebrations are not self-centered. They are uplifting to your peers and to your audiences and customers. So what are you waiting for? Howl out and lift us up!

Halfway through July’s #DareToExcel and it’s time to celebrate our accomplishments. Why is that always so much harder than it sounds? Probably because what’s left to do seems so much bigger than what’s already done. But it’s precisely that illusion that makes this challenge so important.

So what positive changes have I made so far?

  • I accepted the challenge in an effort to pull me out of the morass I’d been stuck in since the end of March
  • I wrote down my two most burning questions: “what if I focus on making instead of mulling?”, and “what if the story is wrong?” (which really leads to the more important question: “what if we changed the story?”)
  • I committed to one small project (Hands in Motion, Mind at Rest) to help clear mental, emotional, and physical space for my one big project, the book referred to as 3T
  • I have been practicing Hands in Motion, Mind at Rest, if not every day, at least most, and am now just 3 long seams away from finishing a quilt started more than three years ago, making me feel lighter, more focused, and like I’m actually getting stuff done; I can’t wait to finish it and move on to the next
  • I identified three young genius traits that I want to reintegrate into my life and work: Vibrancy, Resilience, and Freedom
  • I identified my audience for the book–something I’ve always been reluctant to do–and in doing so gave myself a renewed sense of purpose
  • I identified a skill that I need to cultivate in order to improve my chances of completing my small and large projects, and while I called it “saying no” it’s actually about discernment, which also includes attention to what I need to say yes to, in some cases making tradeoffs–saying yes to one thing in order to release something else
  • I identified my cross-training and versatile heritage skills–sewing, mindfulness, writing, research, and content architecture, but realize now that there are others that are less obvious and in some ways more powerful: creating a backyard homestead garden, learning belly dance and performing on stage, writing several NaNoWriMo novels, and learning how to fly a plane, all of which taught me about focus, dedication, dealing with uncertainty and obstacles, and facing some of my most long-held and agonizing fears
  • I took a look at my relationship with time and realized much of the drowning churn was of my own making
  • I continued to take my #365 daily photos, getting myself out of the house and into the world, all the while staying focused on the concrete world around me, and the beauty there, even in things that don’t at first seem beautiful
  • And perhaps most importantly, I have begun talking about collaborations and getting more involved with other people’s projects–sharing my immune disorder story with Tracee Vetting Wolf for her project, discussing a possible short story collection with Brenna Layne, and attending Jeffrey Davis‘ Tracking Wonder event in Albuquerque where I met some great people and got some great advice about my book from the man himself

Seeing the list written down like this makes me realize how much I’ve accomplished in only two short weeks. Yes I still have a long way to go, but if I can maintain this level of progress for the second two weeks of the challenge and beyond, there’s no telling what I can accomplish.

Trying to Have Something Left Over

Lately I have had a poem stuck in my head, much like we often have songs. I suspect it was initially triggered during poetry class. Each week our teacher, poet Tony Hoagland, gives us sample poems to illustrate the week’s lesson. That week, as part of our lesson on voice, we read The Butternut Tree at Fort Juniper by Jack Gilbert.

I had read Jack Gilbert before. Had a copy of his book The Great Fires on my shelf at home because of another poem, heard in another writing class, read by another writing teacher. That poem was Trying to Have Something Left Over.

Trying to Have Something Left Over

There was a great tenderness to the sadness
when I would go there. She knew how much
I loved my wife and that we had no future.
We were like casualties helping each other
as we waited for the end. Now I wonder
if we understood how happy those Danish
afternoons were. Most of the time we did not talk.
Often I took care of the baby while she did
housework. Changing him and making him laugh.
I would say Pittsburgh softly each time before
throwing him up. Whisper Pittsburgh with
my mouth against the tiny ear and throw
him higher. Pittsburgh and happiness high up.
The only way to leave even the smallest trace.
So that all his life her son would feel gladness
unaccountably when anyone spoke of the ruined
city of steel in America. Each time almost
remembering something maybe important that got lost.

I thought of this poem again a couple of weeks ago when someone asked me what place I considered my home town. I answered the same way I always answer when confronted with this question: I was born in Los Angeles, raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, but the truth is, the place that most feels like my heart’s home is Rochester, New York.

I only lived there a couple of years, but those were the years that made me–fraught with emotion, with life and death, with rugs pulled out from beneath tiny feet. Everything that happened during those years was amplified, while I sat at terminal and non-terminal besides alike, still and silent, bearing witness decades before I learned what those words meant.

The poem came up for me again this morning as I ruminated on the novel I am writing this November, and why my main character, a girl without a name, found herself in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. Although it does seem the kind of town that might attract someone longing to be lost, I believe in her case it was more than that. There was something calling her. Something like an oft whispered name and happiness high up. Which gives the story an interesting twist, transforming a girl wandering alone into a girl with something to search for, a girl who carries within her at least one happy memory to cling to, even if she doesn’t quite remember it.

The Siren Song of November

National Novel Writing MonthIt’s been a while since I’ve been so excited about November. Yes, I know it’s only the middle of October, but today is the day that National Novel Writing Month opened it’s site for this year’s novels.

I did my first NaNoWriMo in 2001, just  two months after 9/11. I’d heard about the challenge the previous year at a holiday party, just days into December. I knew I would be writing with them when November came around again.

That year–their third annual–there were only about 500 participants. In October I got onto the forums to connect with other writers in my area. A couple of us met once a week in a bookstore coffee shop to crank out words and commiserate. The experience was liberating and empowering. I finished my novel, Wake, on November 30th at 50,057 words.

In 2002, I became the local Municipal Liaison for the Silicon Valley chapter, organizing write-ins, throwing kick-off, half-way, and TGIO parties. I got to know the founder, Chris Baty. I finished my second novel, Anatomy.

In 2003, I took over the ML program, organizing more than 300 Municipal Liaisons across the globe, providing press release templates, wrangling giveaway mailings, and providing advice on how to handle difficult participants and inspire those who needed it. I also founded a sister program, National Novel Editing Month, to help writers take their novels from draft to done. And I still managed to finish my book, Glass Cases.

In 2004, I moved to San Francisco, leaving my Silicon Valley group in the hands of others, and though I was still involved, coordinating cross-region writing events and challenges, life got in the way. Between an expanded work schedule and buying a house, I didn’t finish my novel. I also handed off the Editor-in-Chief position for National Novel Editing Month to someone else.

I was away from NaNoWriMo for five years, returning in 2010 for another win with my novel, The Herbal Companion. I had planned to do the same in 2011, but a cross-country move from San Francisco to Santa Fe sapped my concentration, and another novel met the end of November incomplete. In 2013, I decided to change my approach, writing 350 words 3 times a week, but again fell short with just over 21,000 words and no end in sight.

It’s easy to say this year will be different, but what I’m really hoping for is for it to be the same. The same as those first three years when the writing came easy, words flowing from my pen like someone else was writing them. The same as when I had a community of writers, scratching or clicking away beside me as we sat on thick-cushioned couches at the back of our favorite coffee shop until closing, writing each other into our stories. Sharing giant oatmeal cookies, drinking warm coffees or vanilla steamers.

Moving to a new town can, at first, take the wind out of your sails. But it only takes a few people to get you sailing again. Now, armed with my small cadre of writers, I am aching for the first cold days of November after the last haunted night of October during which, at 12:00 midnight I will scratch out the first, well-rehearsed lines of my 2014 November novel, the one that has been, is, building pressure within me longing for its release.